Cisco is banking on Intent-Based Networking (IBN) and SDN for the network of the future. But there is a simpler way. Companies can manage Cisco network devices by means of scripts or with open APIs to automate recurring tasks. The Cisco IOS XE common operating system provides the required basis.
According to Cisco, up to 95 percent of changes in networks are currently executed manually. Accordingly, operating costs are between two and three times higher than the cost of the network itself. It doesn’t have to be that way. Network automation holds a lot of benefits in store for enterprises: it relieves IT teams of manual activities and enables central and efficient network management by means of uniform sets of rules. Updates can be installed quickly on several devices at the same time, and devices can be configured in an automated process – routers, switches, WLAN controllers, server load balancers or security appliances such as firewalls. As this reduces the fault rate, availability and security of the network is increased.
There is no universally applicable way of performing migration to a (partially) automated network as companies’ requirements differ considerably. Cisco sees Intent-Based Networking (IBN) (see blog article) based on Software Defined Networking as a comprehensive, large-scale solution for network automation. But there is an easier way for small and medium-sized enterprises
Automation by means of scripts and APIs
As a first step, network administrators can address devices such as switches or routers via script languages to automate recurring tasks. This means, for example, that it is no longer necessary to implement the configuration for every single device manually. Cisco allows the programming of automated scripts directly into the configuration of the router or switch. Companies can automatically collect data from network devices to generate reports or use scripts to check whether a port is generating errors.
For example, Cisco hardware can be configured using the YANG modelling language for the RESTCONF or NETCONF protocols. A YANG module describes network nodes and their interactions, and defines a data hierarchy. This includes status data, configurations, RPCs (Remote Procedure Calls) and notifications. Furthermore, administrators can access a lot of Cisco hardware components by means of Python Scripting.
The next step is to use open APIs to permit read and write access to products and increase programmability. For example, Cisco’s Prime Infrastructure software already provides appropriate interfaces. This enables IT departments to provide wired and wireless networks as well as to effectively manage services throughout their entire lifecycle. Cisco Prime Infrastructure makes user and access management easier and features optimized workflows. The solutions also offers integrated configuration and monitoring functions for routers in branches.
Cisco IOS XE common operating system
IOS XE (Internetwork Operating System) is a common network operating system for Cisco routers and switches. It runs under Linux and replaces the classical IOS with a modern, modular OS. As the source code is identical on all devices, once programmed, all functions can be implemented directly on other devices. Cisco IOS XE is also SDN-enabled as the data and control levels are separated from one another.
The operating system provides functions such as Application Visibility & Control (AVC) for identifying applications in the network and collecting performance data. Conditional Debugging can be used to capture debugging and logging data according to criteria such as a specific MAC or IP address. Cisco IOS XE also supports important programmable interfaces such as NETCONF and RESTCONF for automating networks.
Cisco is gradually widening the application area of IOS XE to include hardware platforms in other network domains. At the moment, for example, the following Cisco products works with IOS XE:
- Enterprise-Switches: Catalyst 9500, Catalyst 9400, Catalyst 9300, Catalyst 9200, Catalyst 3850, Catalyst 3650
- Wireless Controller: Catalyst 9800
- Edge Router und Router für WAN-Aggregation: Serie ASR 1000, ASR 9000, NCS 4200
- Router für Zweigstellen: Serie ISR 4000, Serie ISR 1000
- Virtuel Router: ISRv 9000, CSR1000v